Thursday, February 8, 2007

Before the coup: US media self-destructs again

Nearly three years after the controversial February 29, 2004 US-backed coup that ousted Haiti's democratically elected president Jean-Bertrand Aristide in the interests of ending what outside powers claimed was uncontrolled violence and corruption, the US State Department has this to say about travel to Haiti:

U.S. citizens traveling to and residing in Haiti are reminded that there is a chronic and growing danger of kidnappings. Most kidnappings are criminal in nature, and the kidnappers make no distinctions of nationality, race, gender or age; all are vulnerable. Over 60 Americans were kidnapped in 2006, most in Port-au-Prince. Many abductions are the result of carjacking or home invasions. Past kidnappings have been marked by deaths, sexual assault, shooting and physical assault of Americans. The lack of civil protections in Haiti, as well as the limited capability of local law enforcement to resolve kidnapping cases, further compounds the element of danger surrounding this trend.

U.S. citizens are also reminded of the potential for spontaneous protests and public demonstrations that can occur at any time, day or night, and may result in violence. While the nation-wide elections for municipal and other local positions on December 3rd, 2006, were conducted peacefully, political violence can occur at any time.
 -- emphasis added
If the ongoing violence in Haiti sounds distressingly like the ongoing meltdowns in the Middle-East, just be thankful that Haiti's resistance to occupation hasn't discovered the attention-getting power of roadside IEDs. At least, not yet.

Haiti, occupied by a force of over 8,000 under the United Nations (see MINUSTAH) since the coup, remains virtually ungovernable, most Haitians still bitter about the forced departure of Aristide, the widespread killing and official corruption that followed, as well as forced foreign takeovers of many Haitian industries.

For US media, Haiti traditionally occupies an extremely low level of interest, despite pervasive and intrusive official US involvement in its affairs since it became the world's first independent black republic in 1804.

What coverage of Haiti there has been in the US has normally consisted of reporters and editors carefully shaping "news" stories to conform to stated and unstated US policies.

On a par with William Randolph Hearst's tub-thumping that lied us into the Spanish-American war, the propaganda blitz conducted by three reporters for the Tribune-owned outlet Newsday in the runnup to the Haiti coup is illustrative.

According to the exceptionally well-documented and devastating analysis of the coverage by investigative reporter Diana Barahona at, for example:
The easiest way for any journalist to express his own bias is through the use of sources. By using some sources and not others, selecting quotes that support a bias and presenting those quotes first, the journalist speaks through his sources. In the articles examined, Aristide’s opponents are always quoted first, allowing them to make outrageous charges such as this one: “He burns children in their homes; he destroys human rights; he must go!” Through the uncritical repetition of charges, the authors accuse Aristide of corruption no less than 14 times, and political assassination twice. They quote unnamed “critics” accusing Aristide of drug trafficking a total of four times: “Human rights groups accused him of ordering killings of political opponents and of involvement in drug trafficking, charges that Aristide denied” (Mar. 1, Newsday). Deibert’s preferred source is millionaire sweatshop owner Andy Apaid, followed by sweatshop owner Charles Baker, never identified as such in the press. Deibert uncritically quotes U.S.-trained paramilitary leader Guy Philippe (see photo), who claimed that “Aristide supporters were conducting alleged massacres in towns they hold.” (Notice Philippe’s use of transference—Aristide supporters and the Haitian police “hold” towns, as if they are the invaders and not Philippe’s men.)

All of these allegations are libelous; they would never have been published if they had been about a U.S. citizen. A journalist who quotes a person making an unsubstantiated charge is just as responsible for the libel as the person quoted—you don’t get out of it by saying that the object of the allegation denies it, or by using the word, “alleged.” Only in foreign reporting do reporters get away with these journalistic crimes.
Beyond the insult and injury to Haitians, the parallels in coverage of the runnup to the Iraq War, as well as in current press coverage of our potential dustup with Iran, are striking.

What makes this pattern of seemingly purposeful deception on the part of the theoretically free and independent press in the United States especially disturbing are the questions it raises about just how credible US news media and their reporters are on any subject of national importance.

Based on recent performance, not very.
For continuing coverage of the Haiti disaster: Digg Stumble Upon Toolbar propeller Furl

Monday, February 5, 2007

Do pols love polls?

Most of us find polling information interesting, sometimes startling, sometimes frustrating.

I'd guess that most of Washington's beltway politicians pay at least as much attention, and perhaps more, to national polls than they do to their constituent communications.

National polling organizations take remarkable measures to ensure their polls are as accurate as possible, while a typical Senator or Representative is bombarded by email and letter campaigns which may or may not reflect actual voter sentiment.

Of course, if the national polls aren't asking the right questions, who's to say what voters really think about a particular thorny issue.

A recent example of not asking a pertinent question is the degree to which national polling organizations have avoided direct questions on the radioactive issue of Presidential impeachment.

While there is some evidence that there is a growing desire for a quick end to the Bush/Cheney control of the White House based in large part on a spreading perception that the pair seem to be engaged in grossly unconstitutional activities, the new Congress has flatly ruled out even a hint of starting the impeachment process that would resolve this issue.

Maybe the pollsters aren't asking the right questions.

If you have a spare 30 minutes, below is a list of contacts for the major news outlets and polling organizations. They will be grateful for your input as to what questions you'd like to see appear in their polls. After all, you are the ultimate consumer of the information. Digg Stumble Upon Toolbar propeller Furl